The West

Blame the bogans
Blame the bogans

The new WA-made crime thriller Blame starts with five masked vigilantes storming a peaceful rural property and taking a man hostage. They gag him, tie him up, and intend to make his death look like suicide. As we slowly discover, they blame him for causing their friend's suicide.

And that's when everything starts to go pear-shaped.

Say what you will about Australian movies - and many do - but we have a pretty clean record when it comes to crime movies.

In fact, Australian filmmakers have created more critical hits and international award winners covering crime than any other genre. From Breaker Morant to The Boys and Chopper to Wolf Creek, we have a near-flawless record when it comes to putting violence, lawlessness, shady characters and dodgy schemes that go awry on the big screen.

Not counting the odd Let's Get Skase or two, of course.

Over the past two years alone, we've experienced a mini-crime wave at the movies that's been amusingly dubbed Australia's "bogan gothic". Some are seemingly ordinary, working-class Aussies. Others are blue-collar crooks in flannel shirts. But all are behaving badly, and they are setting the film world on fire.

Animal Kingdom took Sundance by storm last year, winning the Grand Jury Prize and an Oscar nod for Jacki Weaver. Mad Bastards became the first WA-made film to screen at Sundance, while Snowtown recently won the President's Selection at Cannes. Red Hill, The Loved Ones and Wasted on the Young were also well received by critics, if not by notoriously suspicious local audiences.Blame, a recipient of ScreenWest's annual $750,000 West Coast Visions initiative, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and screened at Cannes recently.

Shot on a semi-rural property in Roleystone in the searing January heat, the $2 million thriller stars six of Australia's hottest rising stars, including Kestie Morassi and Damian de Montemas (Underbelly), Simon Stone and Mark Winter (Balibo), Sophie Lowe (Beautiful Kate) and Ashley Zukerman (Rush). Their hasty plans for their victim go pear-shaped when he fights back and true motives are revealed.

So why are young Australian filmmakers turning to taut, cheap, provocative and well-made crime films? Why does crime pay so well - at least on screen?

Some point to our ties with our convict past, and how we are not as removed from it as we might think. Others say these films hold a mirror to our increasingly violent culture, with glassings, one-punch deaths and organised crime gangs filling our nightly news reports.

Or is it simply because crime thrillers can be filmed on the cheap with stories ripped from today's headlines?

For debut writer/director Michael Henry, Blame was both a reaction to the increase of violence in society and a need to start small with a low-budget production that could deliver maximum impact.

"I was inspired to write it after news reports about real-life vigilante paybacks in London, where a newspaper wrongly published the names of convicted paedophiles and innocent people were targeted," he says.

"But also, Blame is a perfect story for a tight budget. It was written with a realistic approach to filming and financing in mind: six actors in one central location. The production was focused upon achieving the maximum impact in performance, story and creativity for minimum expenditure. To create a film that punches well above its weight, where the budgetary limitations are invisible on screen."

Blame producer Ryan Hodgson said the filmmakers were always conscious of delivering a smart film that stood up to critical rigour but one that didn't alienate any particular demographic.

"It's been a long criticism of Australian film, particularly the ones financed by the various government agencies, that they're overly intellectual and overly concerned about critical reviews more than audience reception," Hodgson said.

"In response to that, I think there has been a shift in the last couple of years where we've seen more filmmakers try to tell Australian stories that are still honest to our experiences but they're using more genre narrative devices to tell their stories. They are still smart and rooted in our experiences but they're more audience-friendly genre films. That's why we're getting things like Animal Kingdom, which was perhaps more audience and user-friendly to something like The Boys a decade ago."

The big screen isn't the only place to find Australia's new "bogan gothic". Television series such as Underbelly, East West 101 and Rush were critical and commercial hits, while popular reality series such as AFP, RBT, Customs and Kalgoorlie Cops point to Australia's thirst to soak up one crime show after another.

Like many of the young Aussie filmmakers tackling the genre while it's hot, Hodgson says the Blame crew were aware of that every step of the way.

"We would always ask 'Who is going to see this, why are they going to see, who would promote it? Why would they promote it? Where would they promote it?' We're really conscious that while it's a low-budget film, we want to deliver a film audiences want to watch."

Blame opens next Thursday at the Luna Leederville.

The West Australian

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